After years of promising progress toward the complete banning of shark finning in the U.S., a possible loophole in federal jurisdiction may set efforts back, increasing the risk to sharks worldwide. A number of states have even gone as far as banning the trading of shark fins but laws that give the federal government the final say act like anchors slowing down the full speed ahead attitude of the anti-shark finning movement. In the world of conservation, to achieve the most success, conservation has always relied on a delicate balance of national and local government power and regulation, which sadly is out whack this time around.
The broad authority the federal government has on fishery management is now proposing a legal form of shark finning, while still officially endorsing a shark fin ban. This bizarre conundrum seems like a massive typo but it’s not. These new proposals would even infringe on states that have already passed laws banning the trade of shark fins. To even begin to understand this mess you need to look at the laws that have been passed.
Back in 2000, then President Clinton, signed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act. This act prohibits cutting fins from sharks and throwing the bodies back in the water. It also prohibits any person from possessing fins aboard vessels or landing in ports without the rest of the body.
Then in 2010, the U.S. continued to strengthen the finning laws by passing the Shark Conservation Act. This act requires any shark brought to shore to be intact and fin attached naturally. It is meant to prevent shark finning from occurring at all.
Most recently, this past March, the countries involved with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) voted to protect oceanic whitetip sharks, scalloped, smooth and great hammerhead sharks, and porbeagle sharks from overexploitation, specifically aimed at the shark fin trade. The U.S. was at the forefront of naming these species to the CITES list, encouraging other countries to vote in favor of instituting sustainable fishing methods.
All of these achievements since 2000 has reduced shark finning in U.S. waters and the size of the shark fin market within the U.S. as well. In fact, the Blue Ocean Institute reports a 68 percent reduction in shark fin imports after eight states banned the trade of shark fins from 2010 to 2013.
Unfortunately, the Magnuson-Stevens Act gives the U.S. all rights and management authority over all fish and continental shelf fish resources within the exclusive economic zone. This means the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has control over issuing what species can be fished, how many, and where it can be sold.
So believe it or not, the federal government may actually have the legal power to bring back the shark fin trade in states that have already banned it! NOAA wants to allow the shark fin trade to continue in the name of conservation and economics, yet the states that have banned shark fin trade have already proven that it works. It’s U.S. government’s responsibility to acknowledge that the national policy is lagging behind some of the state and local laws and that it needs to adjust to accommodate them and save the sharks.